Meeting Gerard ‘Jay’ Ouffoue, you’re immediately struck by his sense of style – his hat, his sweatshirt, his overalls. Ever since Offuoue was young, he was always a bit too tall and skinny for regular sizing, so he decided to start sewing for himself in his hometown of Paris.
“Slowly, slowly I got better as I was doing it,” says Ouffoue. Then, when he arrived in Australia in 2010, Ouffoue says, “I had the chance to buy a sewing machine. I started to play with it and one thing led to another, and now I have my own brand.”
That brand is #lesecteur_ . ‘Le secteur’ literally means ‘the area’ in French and it’s a name that Ouffoue says alludes to one of his core values – that a sense of community is critical to having a good life.
“It’s important to feel a part of your community, to feel good about what you’re doing and what you’re wearing. Communication isn’t just about your voice. For me, I express myself through my clothes.”
Ouffoue’s style can primarily be summarized as ‘tribal’. “My designs can be inspired by African, Aboriginal, Asian or Indian styles,” he explains. “I like lots of patterns and colours. Most of the time my clothes carry a story.”
In addition to designing, and working in the facilities department at ActivateUTS, Ouffoue’s own story includes a stint, from 2003 to 2005, playing soccer for French Ligue 1 team FC Metz. However, an ankle injury cut his professional career short.
In 2010, after changing gears and interning as an accountant, Ouffoue decided to come to Australia for a new adventure. One year later, he began working at ActivateUTS and hasn’t looked back.
“I work in the facilities department, so I help and support all of the other departments of ActivateUTS. We maintain and repair everything that belongs to ActivateUTS. That means I do everything from shifting offices and carrying out repairs, to helping out with events and making sure everything runs smoothly.
“I also met and married my lovely wife here in Australia,” adds Ouffoue.
Although he grew up in Paris, Ouffoue’s family is from Cote d’Ivoire. He credits the country and its people, who are able to craft exquisite items with only limited resources, as one of his main inspirations.
“It helped with my self-motivation,” admits Ouffoue. “Sometimes I think we are too comfortable with what we have and forget to be grateful.”
When Ouffoue isn’t working at UTS, designing clothes or playing soccer with his friends, you can find him dancing to Coupé-Décalé music - the Cote d’Ivoire’s definitive pop music.
As for the secret to Ouffoue’s success, he says, “I try to be a humble, simple person, who loves life. I try to be grateful for what I’ve got and I try to always find a reason to smile and be positive.”